Make A Difference, aka MAD, is an youth organization working towards improving the lives of orphans through education and an opportunity towards sustainable employment. Here is an interview with the founders of the NGO. A venture started by Sujith Varkey and Jithin C Nedumala, has come a long way in empowering orphans and arming them with education and employment.
VP. Its takes a lot of bravado to actually call oneself MAD. Can you detail the origins story (we are sure there is one)?
MAD was started by a few of us during our college years. And hence it was, and still is in some respects, a predominantly youth organization. We wanted to call ourselves MAD not as a show of bravado, but more because it somehow brought some youth edge into it.
In college, a few of us happened to pay a visit to a local boys home to distribute sweets. While leaving, we asked them what they wanted when we visited next time. And surprisingly enough, the boys there asked for books. We were shocked by this request. These weren’t ordinary kids, we realized. They had potential, they had the passion; but never quite had the opportunities.
After a while, we set up a library there and MAD was on its way.
Q. Can you explain what MAD is all about?
In Make a Difference, we currently focus on India’s urban underprivileged, particularly children in street shelters, orphanages, and poor homes. Our children are street smart, intelligent and mature. Yet hardly any of them get the opportunity to continue their education after 10th. This is primarily due to two reasons.
First is the lack of financial support. Most children are taken care of only till the age of 15, after which they are on their own. The education they receive till then is very generic and provides them with no specific skills, which forces them into doing menial jobs for a living.
Second, and more important reason why even the children who are sponsored can’t cope up is the lack of quality education. Our children go to schools where the medium of instruction is in the vernacular language till 10th. But after 10th, the medium is compulsorily in English and most jobs have English language proficiency as one of its basic requirement. Hence even if we are able to sponsor students with good scores for higher education they are unable to cope. The bridge here is the English language.
Our aim is to ensure the underprivileged children are brought into the main stream so they can chose their careers based on their potential and interests and not their financial constraints.
VP: Please elucidate the different programmes undertaken by MAD currently.
Our English course is a 5 level program of 100 hours each. Every year our children go though 56 interactive classes of two hour duration. By the end of the 5th level the child’s communication skills will be at par with a private school student. We have an active placements program that runs side by side to keep the children aware of their career options and keep them motivated to study harder. We have also kicked off our Computer program in some cities to make sure every child will get half an hour of computer class every day and hence attain some level of proficiency in computer usage.
Our aim is to ensure a 100% retention rate in Indian schools. Currently we work in 11 districts in India with over 800 volunteers, teaching 2500 children. We plan to reach out to 10,000 children in the coming years.
VP: How do you encourage common people to do their bit?
This refrain is precisely what MAD wanted to address. In a survey we conducted, we found that the youth force especially wanted to help out with causes, but never quite knew why. We identified a cause: the education of under-privileged children. In effect, what MAD does is to connect the two dots so that you’re no longer just ‘one guy’. You’re one of the guys who want to make a difference, and will do precisely that!
VP: In any NGO the volunteers are the bloodline of the organization, what qualities are you looking for in a MAD volunteer? [Apart from being MAD of course]
An asylum record. No, just kidding. For our English volunteers we make sure they have good knowledge of the English language and are committed to the cause. We also require that the volunteer be present in the same city for the time duration of 1 year as it is not feasible to keep on changing volunteers. This might seem a bit too much to ask, but:
- We can’t train new volunteers every other month
- We can’t let our children be taken on the roller-coaster ride of having a different volunteer every couple of weeks.
Those who cannot commit to this one year period either participate in placement activities or join the ranks as Well-wishers.
VP: How has the programme turned out so far? Are the kids taking part in the programme doing better at school?
The one thing we have noticed with our kids is the phenomenal rise in confidence they’ve gone through during the years. And with confidence comes a reasonable amount of success.
And the answer is yes. They ARE doing better at school. The first batch of students that have gone through five years of syllabus will pass out in another two years. Be sure to contact us then and check out if they did come out in flying colours as we’re hoping they will.
As for more immediate results, all MAD children who attempted the Std X Board Exam cleared it.
VP: Your views on the youth of today.
The youth of today, especially when it comes to a country such as India, have enormous potential. We are the biggest youthful population in the world if I’m not wrong. The youth force is that of power, determination and conviction. If you harness that force, great things can be done.
Gone are the days when people used to think that being a member of the youth force was to get branded as a trouble-maker. The youth of today are out there, changing lives and the course of history.
MAD is a testament of that. MAD is fully run by members of the youth force who’ve assumed leadership roles. Our youthful volunteer force is one that we’re extremely proud of.